I’m sharing another instalment of my Mini Review Mondays, the last of which was last week. In case you haven’t seen any of my previous posts, I do ‘mini’ reviews of books that I’ve read, loved and usually promised to review ages ago.
Today, I’m focusing on three fantastic books that are all either already released or are upcoming releases and I will organise them in order of publication date. For today, all three books were kindly sent to me by Harper 360 YA in exchange for an honest review, so a massive thank you to them!
Kicking things off is the mysterious Nobody Knows But You by Anica Mrose Rissi.
Kayla is still holding on to Lainie’s secrets.
After all, Lainie is Kayla’s best friend. And despite Lainie’s painful obsession with her on-again, off-again boyfriend, and the ways he has tried to come between them, friends don’t spill each other’s secrets. They don’t betray each other’s trust.
The murder at the end of the summer doesn’t change all that.
Besides—Kayla knows that the truth is not the whole story.
Publication Date: 1st October
TW: cheating, death, obsession, murder
Nobody Knows But You is an incredibly gripping, shadowy YA thriller that delves into obsession and forces you to question every little detail the whole way through.
Its short, sharp chapters allow for maximum impact of tension and twists in a fast-paced, quick read that will have you up into the early hours of the morning. The use of multi-media, particularly epistolary form, allows for you to get a multi-layered perspective on the events of the summer, though you obviously can’t trust everything you read. In fact, one of the joys of this book was discovering the underlying bonds and motives behind certain actions or opinions. This is definitely one that you’ll want to re-read, to catch all of the little details. For much of the book, you’re unsure as to who exactly ended up dead on that fateful day, adding a gloss of constant mystery.
At the centre of the book is the tangled, complex and messy relationship between Kayla and Lainie. Their friendship is completely toxic and all-consuming, especially in that intense atmosphere of summer camp. In the languid days of heat, bonds grow, break and mend so much faster. When you add into the mix a group of teenagers let loose from home, you have a cocktail that’s the perfect recipe for disaster. This feeling is captured perfectly with the testimony from various campers interspersed throughout the book. Anica really explores the power balances present within female friendships. Kayla and Laine orbit each other so much and neither of them are particularly perfect, making their flaws bring out the worst in each other at times. Romance also adds a further complication, providing a power imbalance that leads to dramatic events.
Nobody Knows But You feels like the perfect balm to your typical summer romances, adding elements of mystery, love and obsession, to form a twisted tale.
Next up is the gut-wrenching Grown by Tiffany D. Jackson, who yet again proves that her work stands out as masterpieces within the YA genre.
Korey Fields is dead.
When Enchanted Jones wakes with blood on her hands and zero memory of the previous night, no one—the police and Korey’s fans included—has more questions than she does. All she really knows is that this isn’t how things are supposed to be. Korey was Enchanted’s ticket to stardom.
Before there was a dead body, Enchanted was an aspiring singer, struggling with her tight knit family’s recent move to the suburbs while trying to find her place as the lone Black girl in high school. But then legendary R&B artist Korey Fields spots her at an audition. And suddenly her dream of being a professional singer takes flight.
Enchanted is dazzled by Korey’s luxurious life but soon her dream turns into a nightmare. Behind Korey’s charm and star power hides a dark side, one that wants to control her every move, with rage and consequences. Except now he’s dead and the police are at the door. Who killed Korey Fields?
All signs point to Enchanted.
Publication Date: 15th October
TW: sexual assault, rape, paedophilia, assault, child abuse, kidnapping, victim-blaming, violence, death, blood, gaslighting
Jackson has such a distinctive voice in every one of her novels, tackling topical issues through a raw and unfiltered lens. Grown draws on famous cases in the media but provides an original narrative that asks uncomfortable questions about the sexualisation of Black girls and the overarching narrative of victim-blaming. We are so enshrined to celebrity culture that it becomes cult-like and once that shine is tarnished with any accusations, people relentlessly and reverently defend their icon.
Grown is an incredibly tough read at times and I would strongly encourage you to check out trigger warnings. However, the topics it tackles are incredibly relevant and provoke an uncomfortable but much needed discussion. It’s hard-hitting but it never feels like these moments are for shock value, rather to illustrate the very real, disgusting reality of events. Jackson walks that fine line expertly. She clearly illustrates how there’s this structural system of exploration and violence that targets some of the most vulnerable group in society: poor Black girls. Then, the victims are in turn torn apart by wider society if they dare to speak out, constantly sexualised and marginalised.
Enchanted Jones is such a complex, brilliant protagonist. This is finally her being able to use her voice to tell her story, after she’s been manipulated, gaslighted and silenced for so long. The fractured nature of the narration and the way it shifts between past and present highlight the trauma she has experienced and the ambiguity around the role she played in certain events. Her voice is heartbreakingly young and shaped by the horrors she’s experienced, but there is an underlying note of hope that someday things will get better, but only if we push for long-term, structural change. For now, Enchanted will not be the last victim of this sleazy abuse, but she will continue to survive.
In terms of the plot, yet again Jackson has smashed it out of the park. The central mystery hooks you in instantly and she never really lets you go once you’ve crawled into her tangled web. There’s plenty of twists and turns that upended everything you thought you knew, keeping you on the edge of your seat right up until the final page. The pacing is done perfectly, with short chapters and a completely enthralling plot.
Grown feels destined to become a touchstone for YA. It holds immense power in its unflinching unravelling of the truth and the way that it provokes tough but necessary conversations.
Finally, I want to talk about the understated brilliance of Who I Was With Her by Nita Tyndall.
There are two things that Corinne Parker knows to be true: that she is in love with Maggie Bailey, the captain of the rival high school’s cross-country team and her secret girlfriend of a year, and that she isn’t ready for anyone to know she’s bisexual.
But then Maggie dies, and Corinne quickly learns that the only thing worse than losing Maggie is being left heartbroken over a relationship no one knows existed. And to make things even more complicated, the only person she can turn to is Elissa — Maggie’s ex and the single person who understands how Corinne is feeling.
As Corinne struggles to make sense of her grief and what she truly wants out of life, she begins to have feelings for the last person she should fall for. But to move forward after losing Maggie, Corinne will have to learn to be honest with the people in her life…starting with herself.
Publication Date: 15th October
TW: grief, death, biphobia, alcoholism, pressure to come out, slut shaming
Who I Was With Her is, simply put, a stunningly emotional exploration of grief and identity.
Tyndall has crafted a raw, beautiful story that entranced me with its sheer poignancy and beauty. Every word feels heartbreakingly crafted for maximum impact on the reader. It’s a sad tale, but it’s quiet and understated in its nuanced portrayal of grief.
At the centre is Corinne, who is grabbing with losing the only person who truly knew her, trying to understand her identity and the transition into adulthood in the form of college. Her story hit such a raw nerve with me unexpectedly, as I really connected with her and her messy, all too human tale. She is trying to find her place in the world and within herself, which I think many of us can relate to. The shadow of Maggie, this brilliant, vibrant life cut too short, hangs over the book. Through past and present timelines alternating within the narrative, we get to fall in love with Maggie and Corinne’s relationship too and feel every high and low. This increases Maggie’s power over the story and adds to the feel of her being such a central part of Corinne’s life. Part of the story is about learning to live with the past and moving on without forgetting. This was such an emotionally charged aspect of the story for me and really hit home.
Also, I love Tyndall’s exploration of bisexuality. It’s centred around finding your identity and/or coming out in a way that’s best for you, rather than what is demanded of you. Corinne often feels immense pressure to define herself in order to meet the expectations of others and Tyndall firmly address the flaws in this. Coming out is a deeply personal experience that you should be able to set the terms for. Beyond that, Tyndall doesn’t hesitate to dissect the harmful stereotypes surrounding bisexuality and pulls them apart in order to show the problematic ideas behind them. This was just brilliant to see in young adult fiction, as this will undoubtedly help so many readers.
Who I Was With Her is a heart-wrenching, striking story that will leave an indelible mark on your heart.
Here are links to Carrds talking about many of the world’s current events and how you can help. Also, I’ve linked here the Black Lives Matter Carrd to support, but also here is a list of resources to aid Anti-Racism work in the UK, as well as UK specific places to donate to. I will be doing this on every post. If you have the funds to donate, please do but if not, please support and uplift Black voices and sign the petitions.